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Friday, October 26, 2012

Evil Exists Only in the Eye of the Beholder. Scott Bonn, Ph.D.

Evil Exists Only in the Eye of the Beholder.

                        Scott Bonn, Ph.D.

Evil is not a universal truth.  It is a socially constructed concept and it only exists in a particular time and place.  This perspective on evil, known as social constructionism, is rooted in the philosophical writings of Immanuel Kant.  According to Kant, matter does not exist in its own right.  Instead, all matter is a product of the mind.  Because all objects are constructed of matter, all objects are thus mental creations. 

Social constructionism emerged over the past forty years as a sociological theory of knowledge that considers how social phenomena develop in particular social contexts.  According to this perspective, all knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common sense knowledge of everyday life, is actually constructed and reinforced through social interaction.  Social constructionists see reality as a dynamic and constantly contested process—that is, reality is reproduced by people acting on their knowledge and their socially constructed interpretations of it.       

As a logical extension, social constructionism contends that social problems do not exist objectively like a mountain or a river.  Rather, they are constructed by the human mind, socially created or constituted by the definitional process.  Therefore, the objective existence of a harmful condition such as a disease does not, in and of itself, constitute a social problem.  From the social constructionist perspective, an objective condition does not constitute a social problem unless it is defined as such by the members of a society in a particular context.  Moreover, an objective condition does not even have to exist to be defined as a problem.  That is, if something is thought to exist and it elicits fear, then it is real despite the fact that it does not exist objectively.  The witch hunts in colonial New England are an example of a non-objective, socially constructed crisis.  From a constructionist perspective, what makes a condition a social problem is the degree of felt concern by a society about that condition, regardless of whether it actually exists or whether it is objectively harmful. 

            Significantly, an analysis of the social construction of evil provides an understanding of the processes and mechanisms by which those in power and authority in society can demonize a particular group and establish an evil identity for it in the public consciousness.  The word evil itself has a long linguistic history.  The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the original derivation of the word evil to the Goths of the 4th century A.D. who defined it as “exceeding due measure” or “overstepping proper limits.”  Webster’s College Dictionary defines evil as “morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked; harmful or injurious; due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character; evil quality, intention or conduct.”  I contend that the definitions of evil are all socially constructed and socially defined in particular contexts.  In other words, behaving evilly, producing evil and being evil are radically social processes which are defined in a given social context or time and place. 

The definitions of evil are also tautological—that is, the definitions involve circular reasoning.  One may be labeled as evil because one does evil things, and if one does evil things, then one is evil.  This tautology is problematic because a circular argument cannot be tested or falsified.  As a result, the tautological definition of evil can be exploited by those who apply the label of evil to an individual or group.  How?  If the labelers’ arguments cannot be falsified, then their claims are not subject to meaningful debate or critique by skeptics.  Once a disvalued individual or group is socially defined as evil, those in power have the moral authority and even obligation to eliminate the evildoer(s) regardless of whether or not there is an objective threat to society. Therein lies the danger in the social construction of evil.  It certainly didn’t matter that those who were convicted of witchcraft in colonial New England were not actually witches at all.  They were sentenced to death and executed, nonetheless.  It is important to remember this powerful historical lesson.  When we apply the label of evil to a disvalued individual or group without proper inquiry, the consequences can be dire.  

Dr. Scott Bonn is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University and a media expert.  He is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq” and is currently writing a book about finding hope and redemption behind prison walls.  Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit



Sunday, October 21, 2012

The 'NEW' Crime Survey of England and Wales A.Smith

Changes in the Publication of Crime Statistics in England and Wales 


For researchers, students, and members of the public, it use to be the case that you rely on the British Crime Survey produced by the Home Office to find out current trends and issues relating to Crime in England and Wales. As of April 1st, 2012, this has changed and a separation between the Home Office and Criminal Statistics has been established; the collation and publication of crime statistics has moved to the Office for National Statistics.

In December 2010 the Home Secretary announced that the publication of Crime Statistics covering England and Wales would be moved out of the Home Office to promote greater public trust and demonstrate their independence. The Home secretary invited the National Statistician to conduct an independent Review of Crime Statistics for England and Wales to:
  •           Consider gaps, discrepancies and discontinuities within crime statistics;
  •           Recommend the best future location for the publication of crime statistics, and their associated data collection systems; and
  •           Produce an action plan for the implementations of recommendations from the UK Statistics Authority’s report Overcoming Barriers to Trust in Crime Statistics: England and Wales published in May 2010.

National Statistician, Jil Matheson, led the independent review of official crime statistics for England and Wales. The National Statistician – a statutory office holder – is also the Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority Board and the Board’s principal adviser. She is also the Head of the Government Statistical Services (GSS) which is a network of professional statisticians and their staff operating both within the Office for National Statistics and across more than 30 other government department and agencies.

 As indicated in a News Release (June 2011) from the Government Statistical Service, key findings of Ms. Matheson’s review are that:
  •         The Office for National Statistics (ONS) should assume responsibility for the independent reporting and publication of crime statistics;
  •         The presentation of crime statistics needs further improvement to provide clarity about the coverage of the two sources of crime statistics – the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime – and to maximise the benefits of complementary sources to provide a fuller picture of crime; and
  •       There should be transparent decision-making on changes that affect the published crime statistics.

Ms. Matheson reported that the recommendations of the independent review are designed around improving the public’s understanding of crime statistics and their confidence in them.

(For detailed information regarding the recommendations set by the National Statistician see HERE 

The Crime Statistics Advisory Committee

This is a non-statutory body established by the National Statistician following a recommendation from the review. The committee functions as a strategic, high level advisory body offering independent advice to the Home Secretary, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) on matters related to the measurement of crime and the collection and presentation of crime data for England and Wales. It advises on how best to ensure that official statistics on crime are accurate, clearly presented, comprehensive, transparent and trustworthy taking account of the needs of users and providers. The current chair of the committee is Professor Stephen Shute – Head of the School of Law, Politics and Sociology and Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, University of Sussex.

What is ‘The Crime Survey for England and Wales’?

The British Crime Survey and police recorded crime measure different but overlapping issues of crime in England and Wales. They measure people’s experience of crime, and crimes report to, and recorded by the police. The new crime statistics report will now be called The Crime Survey for England and Wales (formerly British Crime Survey) asks people aged 16 and over living in households in England and Wales about their experiences of crime in the last 12 months. These experiences are used to estimate levels of crime in England and Wales. Until recently, the survey did not cover crimes against those aged under 16, but since January 2009 the interviews included children aged 10 to 15.
The Crime Survey also asks respondents about their attitudes to crime-related issues such as:
  •           The Police
  •           The Criminal Justice System
  •           Their perceptions of crime and anti-social behavior.
The results of the survey play an important role in informing government policy.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales provides a better reflection of the extent of household and personal crime than police recorded statistics because the survey includes crimes that are not reported to, or recorded by the police. The survey is also a better indicator of long-term trends because it is unaffected by changes in levels of reporting to the police or police recording practices.

It is important to remember that there are limitations within the Crime Survey and that it does not provide an absolute count of crime.

Information has been taken from the following government websites.